“I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Your mother is the person you are supposed to be able to trust and turn to when life gets confusing and scary. Many women, like myself, didn’t have that. My mother suffered from mental health and addiction issues to try and cope with her own horrific childhood. I do not blame her, nor hold any resentment or anger towards her, but when I was younger I did. I feel sad that she could not find help or peace while she was here, and because of that, not only did she lose out on life, but I lost out on a life with her.
I began grieving her long before she died. I grieved the relationship that I wished we could have had throughout my life, even as a child. I looked at the relationship that my friends had with their mother with envy. Even though I was a young adult when my mother passed away, I still longed for her, and the relationship I wished we would have one day.
I was 23 years old when my mom died. Moving into adulthood, and becoming a mother myself, I did my best to shift into a space that allowed me to try to move forward, despite the past, but it was difficult at times.
The confusion around my relationship with my mother while she was here, and the confusion around her not being here after she died had left a hole inside my soul that as Cheryl Strayed described above as “the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.”
The sense of disconnection that you feel when you have a strained relationship with your mother who is living does not go away when they are gone. Some conversations never got to happen, and even though I had grief counseling, walked through my pain, owned my story and have forgiveness in my heart, there were still the lingering feelings that that I wish things could have been different.
The age of wisdom and experience has made me a better person at understanding that her pain, suffering and choices did not mean she loved me any less. The truth is, she did the best she could, and considering the deep emotional pain that she was in day after day that I understand now, I am in awe of the strength she had when she was here.
Grief is overwhelming and heavy as a stand-alone experience but it is different in comparison to strained relationships. It’s as if grief is layered with the pain of losing someone that you never really had, and the pain of the lost hope that you ever would. I had hoped that as time went on, my mother and I would get to a place where it could feel like a normal mother-daughter relationship for us. While she was living, I always had hope that she would get better and that things between us would get better. When she died that hope was gone. Healing for me had to become about healing the relationship that never was and healing what would never be and moving on from there.
In her absence I had to create a new metaphysical relationship with my mother. In doing so I have developed deeper compassion and empathy for her pain over the years that allows me to sit in a place of forgiveness while I honor her for being my mother without the strained relationship story attached to it. I may not be able to change the past but I can reconstruct the image of my mother in my mind as needed to allow healing and love to flow through our spiritual connection that continues to live on. I chose to heal our relationship this way because I believe that death does not end relationships.
This new metaphysical relationship with my mother that I have been cultivating over they years since she died has brought me to a place of serenity. Motherless daughters of strained relationships grieve differently, and learning how to navigate this journey has brought me to a place of acceptance. Acceptance of her, acceptance of our history, and acceptance of our relationship as it was, and as it now becomes.